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Politicians should ‘respect each other better’

Politicians have a responsibility not to encourage toxicity in public debate, Leo Varadkar said in his final speech before the selection of a new Taoiseach.

Mr Varadkar formally resigned as Taoiseach yesterday.

Simon Harris, who succeeded Mr Varadkar as leader of the Fine Gael party following his surprise resignation last month, is expected to be selected as the new Taoiseach.

Speaking in the Dáil this morning, Mr Varadkar said it had been a “privilege” to serve as a public representative for 20 years.

He was Taoiseach between 2017 and 2020 as well as from 2022 until yesterday. In the intervening period, he served as Tánaiste in the coalition Government.

He spent 13 years in Cabinet and seven years as leader of Fine Gael.

“It has been the most fulfilling and rewarding time of my life,” he said.

“But today is the beginning of a new era for my party, a new chapter in my life, and a new phase for this coalition Government.”

Thanking his constituents, staff and party colleagues, Mr Varadkar said he will continue as a TD.

In particular, he thanked Simon Coveney, who was his deputy party leader but is also leaving Government today.

Mr Varadkar also paid tribute to the other coalition leaders – Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan.

“This historic government ended civil war politics in our parliament and was the first to include Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party,” he said.

“The trust and respect that we’ve built up together ensure that this Government remains solid and stayed the course and I think will be a model for future coalitions of equals, in this State and elsewhere.”

In his speech, Mr Varadkar said politicians need to “respect each other a little bit better”.

He said there has been a change in tone in political debate, including a growth and encouragement of anger, as well as “coarseness and even toxicity”.

“We should not twist each other’s words, misquote each other, misrepresent each other or demonise each other.

“And we should be much slower to question each other’s motives. Above all, we need to learn to disagree better.

“In my constituency, and on many campaigns, I’ve worked with people from political tradition that has perspectives that are opposite of mine.

“With very few exceptions, they are all people who are motivated by a desire to improve their country and communities, which they care about deeply.

“If we want politicians to be more respected, we have to respect each other a little bit better.”

Mr Varadkar also he wanted to offer some reflections before he left his seat.

“The first is that Ireland is a great country. We’ve been a stable and continuous democracy for over 100 years.

“We have our problems, but we are free and prosperous and safe, with huge opportunities for our citizens.”

He added that “most if not all” of the problems Ireland has faced in the last 15 years – including health and housing – have been international or external in origin.

“We’re a small ship on a big and restless ocean, and that ship needs to be crewed by good people.”

Mr Varadkar said he is “proud” of his record in office, including welcoming more than 100,000 refugees from Ukraine since the war began.

“I’ve had the honour of helping to lead Ireland from unemployment to full employment; from budget deficits to budget surplus, to a point where we have the resources to invest in public services and public goods in a way we could not in the past; through a pandemic in which we saved lives and livelihoods; through Brexit, where we prevented a hard border between North and South to protect our place in Europe,” he said.

“We’ve made the country more equal and more modern when it comes to the rights of children, the LGBT community and women, and more recently inflation and the cost-of-living crisis, the worst of which is now thankfully behind us.”

Mr Varadkar also said his Government has reduced poverty and doubled housing construction.

“Ireland is no longer a laggard on climate change. We are turning the tide on climate and biodiversity loss.”

However, he accepted there are areas where the Government has gone “backwards”, adding: “These are problems still to be solved. There will always be problems to be solved and always more work to be done.”

In conclusion, Mr Varadkar wished Mr Harris well as his successor: “I always knew he would be Taoiseach one day. This has perhaps come a little bit sooner than he might have planned or expected, but I know he will rise to the occasion.

“He has empathy, energy, experience, campaigning skills and political antenna to take us forward and I look forward to voting for him and the new Cabinet in the house later today.”

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